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100 MEEELION self-driving cars will be sold globally in 2035 – report

But only if we decide who'll be liable when they crash

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A new report has come to the rather startling conclusion that there will be nearly 100 million autonomous cars sold per year globally by 2035.

Navigant Research, a clean-energy consultancy and research group with offices in the US, UK, and South Korea, forecasts that self-driving cars will comprise 75 per cent of all light-duty vehicles sales in 2035, totalling 95.4 million.

That figure is especially surprising when you consider that in 2012, around 60 million passenger cars were sold worldwide – and that was the best year on record for passenger car sales, which account for 74 per cent of all motor vehicles sold globally.

Perhaps, however, one shouldn't be too surprised at Navigant Research's projection of a total of 127.2 million light-duty vehicle sales in 2035. The China Association of Automobile Manufacturers, Automotive News reports, projects that passenger-vehicle sales will top 30 million per year by the end of the decade, and The Hindu Business Line quotes the president of the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers as saying, "Overall, the passenger vehicle sales is estimated to rise by 5-7 per cent in this financial year," despite a dip last year.

Navigant Research cites an "industry consensus" that self-driving cars will be available by 2020, but that "significant hurdles still remain" before their widespread adoption. Those hurdles aren't technological, they say, seeing as how computing, software, and sensor performance – ultrasonics, radar, lidar (light detection and ranging), stereo cameras, and the like – are already sufficient for autonomous driving.

"Rather," they write, "the factors that remain to be solved before rollout to the public are those of liability and legislation." To those two hurdles we suggest adding a third and a fourth: industry standards and consumer acceptance.

Consumer acceptance will likely ease its way into place, beginnning with such limited autonomy as automatic parking and adaptive cruise control, but industry standardization on such matters as secure vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communications and such vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) standardizations as signal phase and timing (SPaT) are still under development.

Questions of liability and legislation are indeed critical to reaching that 95.4 million figure, but like V2V and V2I, progress is being made. Here in the US, Nevada issued its first autonomous-vehicle license plates to Google's self-driving Toyota Prius last May, and California's SB 1298 and Florida's CS/HB 1207 legislation have cleared the way for autonomous vehicle testing in those states.

Autonomous vehicles are on the way – but if you want to bag a copy of Navigant Research's 72-page deep dive into their future, it's going to cost you: access to the report costs $4,200 for one to five users, or $6,300 for an unlimited license. ®

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